Works of denunciation provocative and full of irony
Giuseppe, how does a good guy who was born in Mazzarino, Sicily, become the rebellious bad boy of Italian art?
I was born in Mazzarino but I lived in Riesi, a country in the Sicilian hinterland that – I am sorry to say that – has played a major role in the development of my dramatic vision of the world. Luckily, I have a strong sense of irony that helped me get through tough times. I have never been a good guy. As a schoolboy, I was quite disrespectful to teachers, janitors and classmates. I used to make fun of them very often, both materially and through sarcastic cartoons that spread around the school.
You have a degree in architecture and worked as a comic book illustrator and cartoonist for different newspapers. How do you reconcile these three different souls?
I think every previous work experience adds up to the work you are doing at present. The degree in architecture helped me refine the way I design and plan exhibitions as well as works of art, whereas comics and political satire sharpened my narrative, expressive and synthesis skills. Three crucial elements that are a constant with my painting.
In spite of their ironic nature, your works of denunciation generally make a sensation.
When I create a new work, I think I will finish it in the best possible way. Everything stems from an idea that is always the product of something I see, read or listen to. Starting from these premises, I simply limit myself to portray the fruit of my reflections on canvas. If such works cause a stir, maybe it is reality itself that is scandalous.
It seems that, when they approach your work, the public tend to misunderstand the intentions of the artist.
The public interprets my work resting upon their level of knowledge. I do not think there can be such a thing as a wrong interpretation of a work of art. The existence of multiple contrasting readings is a good thing: it means that the work contains them all. The more interpretations are put on a painting, the more elusive its meaning gets.
People are shocked but flock to your exhibitions. After all, they want to be shocked.
More than to be shocked, they want to experience new emotions, and art can often make them live them. The themes I deal with are quite unusual for a painter, and it might be this feature of my art that captivates them so much.
You use flat coatings of sugary colours and disorienting combinations to reinterpret great Renaissance works.
The Renaissance is the period of art history I love most, and it is from it that I often draw new ideas to reinterpret those masterpieces I love so much. The colours I use come from the Sicilian carts that fostered my imagination as a child, the comic books and cartoons I loved as a teenager and many Renaissance paintings, especially those by Michelangelo and Raphael.
Your signature style may be described as a mix of sacred and profane, cultured and folk art.
My monograph, which is published by Skira, is called “Mash-Up”, which means mixing. I am deeply fascinated with shuffling cards, as it often produces very interesting paradoxes.
What is the token of appreciation that has pleased you most up until now?
There have been many ones; however, the most recent one, which is also an indirect one, is the reproduction of one of my works in a book about R affaello Sanzio written by Luca Nannipieri on the occasion of the five-hundredth anniversary of the artist’s death (the book is published by Skira).
If my painting makes a sensation, maybe it is reality itself that is scandalous
What was the piece of criticism that made you feel worse?
Many negative judgements hurt me because of their superficial nature. Anyway, what made me feel very bad is knowing that some art critics and journalists refused to visit and write about my exhibition that took place at the Riso Museum in Palermo.
Now, you’re leaving for the United States. What are you going to do overseas?
On June 4, I will open a solo exhibition at Space Gallery Soho in New York. Many paintings are still in progress. The exhibition will be called “Alter Ego” and will feature several novelties. There will obviously be works on Trump and America in general.
Lorella Pagnucco Salvemini